An arduous and testing campaign of expatriate rugby reaches its conclusion this weekend with the finals of the UAE Premiership and UAE Conference on Friday.
Jebel Ali Dragons and Abu Dhabi Harlequins meet at The Sevens at 16:00 looking to be crowned Premiership champions and end tumultuous seasons on a high. Dragons return to the scene of their semi-final win last weekend, they earned a dramatic 28-24 win over defending Premiership champions Dubai Exiles. They will meet Quins who eased to a 43-27 triumph at Zayed Sports City over Dubai Hurricanes – who had finished fourth in the standings.
The game is also a rematch of the 2016/17 final – a thrilling game was decided by a late Emosi Ratuvanacua in a 30-20 triumph. It was a win that sealed a sensational quintuple for Quins.
It’s been a largely galling campaign for both sides, who have been blown away by brilliant Bahrain in the major competition – the West Asia Premiership. Dragons has been brilliant on their way to a maiden trophy in four years last season under Henry Paul.
But after former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips was named as Henry’s successor in the summer, initial fanfare died down as Dragons struggled to compete at their 2017/18 level, with Phillips vacating the role in January.
For Quins, they remained fairly stoic in the dominance of Bahrain, finishing second to Louie Tonkin’s side in the standings. That has been impressive considering they also lost their coach – the influential Mike McFarlane – around the same time. They also had to contend with reaching the Gulf Men’s League final at the Dubai Sevens, only to lose to Canes.
In the Conference final, meanwhile, reigning champions Dubai Tigers will be favourites to retain their crown as they take on 2016/17 finalists Al Ain Amblers – the duo finished first and second in the league standings.
Tigers mauled Dragons 2nds in their semi-final last week, winning 57-17, while Amblers negotiated their way past Hurricanes 2nds via a 31-22 triumph.
UAE Conference final
14:00 Dubai Tigers v Al Ain Amblers
UAE Premiership final
16:00 Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Jebel Ali Dragons
In an exciting first for the Gulf region, the Beach Rugby Dubai tournament was officially announced this week.
Sanctioned by the UAE Rugby Federation and supported by Beyond the Beach, Beach Rugby Dubai offers a thrilling one-day tournament of corporate, social and club rugby on the shores of the pristine Jumeirah coastline.
Open to all levels of men’s and women’s players, locally and internationally, the tournament will be played at the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort located within the vibrant heart of JBR Walk on Friday, April 26. Matches will start at 08:00 and continue through until 20:00.
“Discussions have been under way for a number of years on how we can bring the excitement of beach rugby to UAE’s rugby-loving community and we now believe we have the right starting point which will provide a fantastic day of quality rugby for clubs, corporates and social teams, as well as for the enjoyment of rugby fans,” said Qais Al Dhalai, UAE Rugby Federation’s secretary general.
“We are exceptionally fortunate to have some of the most stunning, clean stretches of beachfront in the UAE and we are very pleased to see this tournament scheduled to be played on the Sheraton Beach Resort’s shoreline.”
Speaking on the development of the tournament Al Dhalai added: “We have entered into a long-term partnership with our preferred sport marketing agency; Onside Sports, who have been tasked with developing the concept and the event.
“Together with them we look forward to, and are committed to growing this tournament into a must-do fixture on the UAE sporting calendar for the enjoyment of local and international beach rugby fanatics and fans.”
Jeff O’Brien, managing partner at Onside Sports, said: “Dubai is rich with numerous quality sports events that welcome the participation of all levels of athlete, and, with the many formats rugby has to offer we are very excited to bring both contact and touch to the sands of Dubai under Beach Rugby Dubai.
“We are encouraged by the interest we are receiving (for the tournament) and are exceptionally pleased to welcome Beyond the Beach as our official sponsor and thank them for their support to this engaging, and exciting format of a rugby experience.”
A total of five pitches will be used throughout the day, where three beach pitches will be marked out for beach rugby touch and two for beach rugby contact. Teams in beach rugby touch will consist of seven players per team (three reserves), and the beach rugby contact will consist of eight players per team (three reserves).
Each half will be played over five minutes. Officiating Beach Rugby Dubai will be under the jurisdiction of the UAERF with technical support from Middle East Touch.
More information about Beach Rugby Dubai, including packages, can be found at www.beachrugbydubai.ae.
Mike Wernham has described Abu Dhabi Harlequins as “our Everest”, with Dubai Hurricanes going in search of a long-overdue victory against the capital city side.
Much-improved Canes head to Abu Dhabi to take on Quins on Friday with a place in the UAE Premiership final against either Dubai Exiles or Jebel Ali Dragons the prize. But to all intents and purposes, head coach Wernham admits this is their final.
It’s been a fixture filled with Canes pain over the years, ever since Ross Mills’ men finished top of the regular season standings in the 2014/15 campaign yet went on to suffer a gargantuan 39-19 defeat in the Premiership final to a Jeremy Manning-led Quins.
In the last three seasons alone, Canes’ record against Quins reads: seven games, seven defeats – though they do allow themselves a smirk at their 24-14 triumph at the Dubai Sevens last December, the shock win coming in the final as Canes lifted the Gulf Men’s League title.
In the main league competition though it’s been agony after heartbreaking agony. Quins triumphing by a combined margin of 249-146 in the now amalgamated West Asia/UAE Premiership meetings during the last three campaigns.
There have been many close calls though, the 36-35 loss at The Sevens in December in-particular; a thrilling encounter that was nevertheless laced with more Canes pain.
Despite their recent experiences, Canes and Wernham head to Zayed Sports City full of confidence.
“It’s a semi but we’re treating it as a final,” said Wernham. “We have our backs against the wall and are underdogs, but we’re used to that. We’re glad we’re in a semi and we have nothing to hold back. This is our Everest.
“We had a goal at the end of the year to finish in the top four at the start of the season and we’ve met that. But obviously our goal has changed now following victories over Dragons and Exiles.
“We’ve been to Quins twice – the first time we were in it then blew it (lost 31-12 last October), then in the second game we blew that too after being 14 points up (the 36-35 defeat in February).
“So we’re under no illusion about how tough it is to go there and get a result. It’s a fortress for them but we go there with huge confidence. We want to play some rugby.”
For Quins, it’s been a strange season. Mike McFarlane – in charge since Manning stood down after that triumphant 2014/15 season – returned to England at the beginning of 2019, leaving players Luke Stevenson and Craig Nutt in charge.
They finished second behind dominant Bahrain in the West Asia Premiership table, only to then lose to Exiles in the ensuing play-off semi-final. The Dubai side then went to Saar and were narrowly beaten 23-21 in the final two weeks ago.
And Stevenson wants to avoid a repeat of last term when Quins’ efforts warranted much but they were left with little – beaten by Exiles in the UAE Premiership final and losing out on the West Asia Premiership to Dragons on the final day.
“It’s been a strange season for us, we’ve been the most consistent side behind Bahrain but could walk away with nothing to show for it, so we want to make sure we go well this weekend and hopefully push on into next season,” said UAE fly-half Stevenson.
“The way the season is structured has led to a bit of an anti-climax, and I know most boys, in all clubs, not just Quins, are a bit baffled at the two separate play-off systems, and just want to get to the end of the season.
“If we can do that in a final then great, but hopefully there’s a shake-up next season as having play-offs in a five-team league just defeats all purpose of the league itself.
“Hurricanes are a decent side and we always have tough games against them, so we’ll have to put in a strong performance and try and end the season well.”
In the other semi-final, being played in Dubai, Exiles will also look to finish the season strong against Dragons and fight to retain the trophy they lifted against Quins a year ago.
“We are excited ahead of the Dragons game, regardless of it being a semi-final it’s always a good battle between the two of us,” said scrum-half Ed Armitage, who has been filling in at full-back this term.
“After the disappointment of the West Asia final, we are desperate to give ourselves an opportunity at a title.
“I think we are peaking at the right time. Back in January I think most teams had written us off, but with our squad getting back to full strength we are playing decent rugby which teams cannot handle at times.”
Chairman Mike Wolff added: “We are really excited and up for this one. Dragons are a great club and they will undoubtedly put out a strong team.
“We were denied the West Asia title against Bahrain by a matter of inches the other week; it would be great for our guys to make another final to have a shot at the chance of the UAE Premiership title. Everything to play for.”
The UAE Conference semis are also being played this weekend, with reigning champions Dubai Tigers looking to get back to the showpiece a year on from their scintillating 25-20 extra-time triumph over Sharjah Wanderers. Tigers take on Dragons 2nds at Dubai College.
In the other semi being played at The Sevens, Hurricanes 2nds entertain 2016/17 finalists Al Ain Amblers.
UAE Premiership semi-finals
17:00 Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Dubai Hurricanes
17:00 Dubai Exiles v Jebel Ali Dragons
UAE Conference semi-finals
15:00 Dubai Hurricanes 2nds v Al Ain Amblers
16:00 Dubai Tigers v Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds